Strong connectivity is essential for building a developed India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday while flagging off the world's longest river cruise 'MV Ganga Vilas' which will travel 3,200 km in 51 days to reach Dibrugarh via Bangladesh, sailing across 27 river systems.
Modi via video conferencing also inaugurated a Tent City at Varanasi, developed on the banks of the Ganga opposite the famed ghats of the holy city, to tap the tourism potential of the region.
Besides, he inaugurated and laid the foundation stones for several other inland waterways projects worth more than Rs 1,000 crore in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Assam during the event.
In his address, Modi pointed out that the world's longest river cruise from Kashi to Dibrugarh will bring to the fore, places of tourism in North India on the world tourism map.
Talking about the importance of river Ganga in the lives of Indians, Modi regretted that the area around the banks lagged behind in development in the post-independence period thereby leading to a massive exodus of population from the area.
Elaborating on a twin approach to address the situation, the Prime Minister said that on one hand, the campaign to clean Ganga was undertaken through 'Namami Gange' and on the other hand 'Arth Ganga’ was taken up.
In 'Arth Ganga' steps have been taken to create an environment of economic dynamism in the states from where Ganga passes.
Addressing the 32 tourists from Switzerland who have signed up for the entire length of the journey, the Prime Minister said: "Today India has everything and a lot beyond your imagination".
He said India can only be experienced from the heart as the nation has welcomed everyone with open hearts irrespective of region or religion, creed or country and welcomed tourists from all parts of the world.
The beginning of cruise service on river Ganga is a landmark moment and it will herald a new age of tourism in India, Modi said adding this will further push tourism and create new employment opportunities.
"Strong connectivity is essential for building a developed India," the Prime Minister said and stressed that the rivers of India will give new heights to water power and trade and tourism of the country.
Modi further said there was a low usage of river waterways in India before 2014 despite the rich history in this mode of transport in the country.
Post 2014, he said India has started harnessing the ancient strength to the cause of modern India. There is a new law and detailed action plan for developing waterways in big rivers of the country, he said.
Saudamini Mathur, Vice President, Antara Luxury River Cruises, which is operating MV Ganga Vilas said: the entire length of the journey would cost around Rs 50-55 lakh inclusive of all taxes.
Mathur further said the cruise is fully booked till March 2024 and bookings are available beyond that. Most of the tourists are from the US and Europe.
The Prime Minister informed that in 2014 only five national waterways were there in the country, now there are 111 national waterways and about two dozen are in operation already.
Similarly, there has been a 3 times increase in cargo transportation via river waterways from 30 lakh metric tonnes eight years ago.
He also emphasised that India has more than 125 rivers and river streams which can be developed to transport goods and ferry people while also giving impetus to further expanding port-led development.
Modi said facilities for promoting cruise tourism are being created in other parts of the country.
He also said that waterways are not just beneficial to the environment but also help in saving money. The cost of operating waterways is two and a half times lesser than that of roadways, and around one-third of the cost when compared to railways, he added.
An official release said the MV Ganga Vilas cruise is curated to bring out the best of the country to be showcased to the world.
The 51-day cruise is planned with visits to 50 tourist spots including world heritage sites, national parks, river ghats, and major cities like Patna in Bihar, Sahibganj in Jharkhand, Kolkata in West Bengal, Dhaka in Bangladesh and Guwahati in Assam.
According to an official statement, the luxury cruise has three decks, 18 suites on board with a capacity of 36 tourists, with all the luxury amenities.
The journey will give the tourists an opportunity to embark upon an experiential voyage and indulge in the art, culture, history, and spirituality of India and Bangladesh.
Tent City at Varanasi, the release said has been conceptualised on the banks of the river Ganga to tap the potential of tourism in the region.
The project has been developed opposite to city ghats which will provide accommodation facilities and cater to the increased tourist influx in Varanasi, especially since the inauguration of Kashi Vishwanath Dham. The tourists will reach the Tent City by boats from different Ghats situated in the vicinity.
The tent city will be operational from October to June every year and will be dismantled for three months due to the rise in river water level in the rainy season.